How Does Coal Mining Affect the Environment?

Coal mining affects the environment in several ways: underground coal mining introduces toxins such as methane gas into waterways and the atmosphere, and surface coal mining contributes to deforestation and erosion. Coal mining displaces large amounts of water, which in turn alters local water tables. This change affects organisms in surrounding ecosystems, changing the flow rate and volume of water in streams and lakesand impacting the health and growth rates of fish, plants and aquatic species.

Coal mining takes place in two ways: surface mining and underground mining. Both pose threats to the environment, but in different ways. Surface mining takes place primarily on mountaintops. Setting up mining operations requires clear-cutting, often of vast tracts of forests and vegetation. This removal disturbs habitats and alters landscapes. Animals dependent on those forests for food and shelter must relocate. Plants requiring those soils for growth face species loss.

Debris from surface mining often ends up in nearby streams and waterways, ultimately causing pollution. In addition to destroying lands and living areas, coal mining produces methane and fires. Coal fires introduce toxins into the atmosphere, including gases contributing to global warming. Methane, a byproduct of underground mining operations, poses a threat to the atmosphere. This gas accelerates climate change, proving more potent and powerful than other gases such as carbon dioxide.